When Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy stepped into her role at Xerox in 2001, the company was nearly bankrupt, and she needed to make drastic reforms to keep them afloat. However, rather than make sweeping, far-reaching changes right away, Mulcahy chose to spend the first 3 months communicating with and listening to the employees. Then she implemented change initiatives. Ultimately, Mulcahy’s process helped rebuild hope at the company, and it led to them becoming profitable again.

Mulcahy was successful at Xerox because she knew that strategic communication tools were the key to igniting change at an organization. Leaders who first listen to and understand employees, then clearly communicate their visions and goals, are better able to get people onboard with their initiatives and move people toward change.


Below are 3 ways you can use empathetic listening and stories, speeches, and ceremonies to spark change:

1. Determine What Common Ground You Share

To appeal to your team, you should first find common ground with them. You can become aware of people’s mood and responses by practicing empathetic listening. To start, imagine yourself in the place of your employees, and remember a time when you were in a similar position — asked to embrace something you didn’t support. What were you thinking, feeling, and doing? What helped you change your mind? You can use these memories to generate empathy for your team, then listen to their concerns in a way that shows them you understand their experience.

Empathetic listening helps because it makes people feel like they are accounted for in the process.


2. Assess How Your Team Members are Feeling

When listening to the feelings of team members, gauge how resistant they seem to your ideas. People who gain from change are likely to commit quickly. Those who have things to lose may initially resist. Once you understand peoples’ level of resistance, you can choose whether you are going to use motivating communication to energize them, or warning communication to coax them.


3. Communicate Your Vision Clearly

Once you’re aware of how your travelers are feeling, you can use reliable warning and motivating tools to clearly communicate your dream.

If your team is on board with the change, communicate with the following motivating techniques:

  • Vision Speeches: Vision speeches are remarks that explain your vision and dream. Tell stories with images of the future that linger.
  • “Heed the Call” stories: Set the scene of the epiphany you had about your dream. Use heed the call stories to give insight into your process and make them feel closer to your motives.
  • “Immerse Deeply” ceremonies: Hold events that creatively transport people via vision meetings, brainstorms, and kickoff strategy sessions.

If your team is feeling resistant to change, the following techniques can help coax them to join your cause.

  • Revolution Speeches: Incite travelers to rise up and demand a better future by making a speech that describes in stark detail the losses that will occur if the current condition isn’t changed. Share a picture of life in balance when wrongs are righted.
  • “Neglect the Call” stories: Tell stories of the costs of avoiding the change. Set the scene for what unrewarding reality could come to fruition without it.
  • “Mourn the Ending” ceremonies: Hold ceremonies to help those who cling to old behaviors prepare for change and symbolically close the door.


Leaders who succeed at starting a change in their company have to get their travelers onboard with them. This is a two-part process: listening, empathizing, and understanding the travelers, then framing your communication so it lands in the right way to inspire action.



Patti Sanchez is chief strategy officer at Duarte Inc. and co-author of Illuminate: Ignite Change through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols. Follow her on Twitter @PattiSan.